Angel Gregorio believes “food is fashion.” The Washington, D.C.-based entrepreneur and former educator founded The Spice Suite, her fusion of good food and good people.
The Spice Suite started in 2015 when Gregorio walked by a vacant storefront in the Takoma neighborhood in D.C. and decided to turn it into a collaborative shop that not only features couture spice blends but is a “dream incubator and haven” for other aspiring Black entrepreneurs, who can sell their products in the space with no fees. Over the past eight years, it has hosted more than 2,300 free pop-up shops for Black female business owners.
Photo Courtesy Spice Suite
Spice blends with names like “No Salt, Still Bomb,” “DC or Nothing,” and “Just A Little Heat,” and honey, infused oils, and hot sauces showcase Gregorio’s zest for flavor, with a focus on community. The shop even carries rare spices from around the world, including saffron mint sea salt.
Other Black entrepreneurs selling products at the Spice Suite help her run the space and grow the products. Many of these business owners are women and teamed up as the “Spice Girls” for networking events.
The atmosphere was always about giving customers a unique and interactive culinary experience while supporting and empowering other grassroots businesses for success.
Photo Courtesy The Spice Suite
By 2021, the popularity of Spice Suite meant the store outgrew its humble origins. This growth led Gregorio to open Black + Forth, D.C.’s first Black-owned strip mall, which offers affordable commercial space for black business owners. Located in the Landon neighborhood, the 7,500-square-foot property uses shipping containers for some of its retail space.
Alongside a new Spice Suite store, Black + Forth has a hair salon, a braid bar, a nail studio, and a brow bar and regularly hosts farmers’ markets featuring Black food artisans and farmers. The organization is based on a “village” approach to business ownership, with a back-and-forth system where all business owners work together for the good of the entire community.
Photo Courtesy black.and.forth
“It was just this catchy, cool name that I created for how I describe my process of going back-and-forth with Black business owners,” Gregorio told the DCist/WAMU. “And now it is the name of a shopping center — a strip mall — that I own in D.C. So I feel good about that, and I’m grateful to be in the space.”
Black + Forth also offers a Community Business School where business owners can enroll in monthly courses ranging from branding, marketing, bookkeeping, and general business skills.
Business owners can also apply for various scholarships and grants offered by Black + Forth. In many cases, the businesses at the center had been previously operating out of their homes due to the costs of business spaces in the D.C. area.
“We have a lot of conversation about affordable housing, but we don’t talk enough about making commercial space affordable for Black women,” Gregorio told DCist. “And so since no one is talking about it, I’m just going to do it and let people talk about it.”
Photo Courtesy black.and.forth
Gregorio purchased the property through D.C.’s Commercial Property Acquisition Fund, designed to help increase minority business ownership shares by a third city-wide.
“We’re going to keep making these sorts of investments, so we can do the sorts of transformational things that allow our Black and Brown entrepreneurs not only to be great business people [but] to build wealth that they can pass on for generations to come,” Kenyan McDuffie, D.C. Councilmember, said at the Black + Forth ribbon-cutting ceremony in January.
Overall, Gregorio hopes to inspire other dreamers to build and create a legacy within their community.
“I want someone to say like, you know what, there’s this property I’ve been looking at in Southwest of another part of town; I think I want to do it,” she said to WUSA9, “so that us helping each other in this way and supporting each other as relentlessly as I do, becomes the way that we all show up for community.”